The IDF insists on not indicting the security officer who killed Bassem Abu Rahme, even though we provided it with enough details to find him
In April 2009, an Israeli uniformed officer fired a gas canister, using dead reckoning, into the chest of demonstrator Bassem Abu Rahme, during the weekly demonstration in the village of Bil’in, and killed him. The killing was carried out in the presence of senior officers. Firing a canister using dead reckoning is contrary to the orders of the IDF itself, not to mention the moral meaning of shooting an unarmed man; but Abu Rahme was a Palestinian, and it would seem the IDF would do anything possible to avoid meting justice to his killer – even though he can find his identity easily.
Last week, hours before Rosh Ha’shana – classic news-killing move – the government announced that the Judge Advocate General decided to close the case, citing “lack of evidence” for an indictment.
This argument is rubbish, and I’ll be back with it soon. But first we need to give a brief history of the case. Several days after the killing, B’Tselem wrote to the military prosecution, demanding an MPCID investigation of the shooting; at about the same time, Atty. Michael Sfard made the same demand.
But even though an unarmed civilian was shot to death by a security officer – a fact which is not contested – the military prosecution refused to open a criminal investigation, insisting instead on a military debriefing process. On 28th March, 2010 – some 11 months after Abu Rahma was killed – the military prosecution announced that it would not open an MPCID investigation. They used a creative excuse: They claimed the canister may have hit the fence and ricocheted towards Abu Rahma, and hence there was no guilt. And perhaps, they mused, the fact that Abu Rahme was standing on a rock “caused a convergence” between him and the arc of the canister.
These are precisely the sort of questions an MPCID investigation would have answered. And yet, the prosecution refused to open one. There is another critical point here: The prosecution claimed that, despite the debriefing, it does not know who the shooter was. If an IDF debriefing can’t answer this basic question, every Israeli should wonder what this process is good for.
So we happily solved this riddle for the prosecution. On June 3rd, 2010, Attys. Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer demanded the military prosecution open an MPCID investigation, adding to their demand an opinion based on a technology called Forensic Architecture. The death of Abu Rahme was documented by three different video cameras; from the merging and rebuilding of the images [see video; the shooting is just after 3:40], you can plainly see where the soldier who shot him stood, and you can see that the shooting was dead reckoning. We don’t know the identity of the shooter, but we found out where he stood during the shooting. Any self-respecting investigative outfit ought to be able to answer this question rather easily – particularly after a military debriefing.
It should be further noted that according to a testimony gathered by the NGO Breaking the Silence (Hebrew) one of the soldiers involved documented the killing by video, and “some soldiers had this video on their mobile phone. They sent it to one another and laughed about it a bit. The guy who shot him, I don’t remember his name, personally I don’t know him too well but I sort of knew who he was, he was rather happy with the story. He put an X on his grenade launcher.” Somehow, all this evaded the debriefing, and the MPCID investigation as well. Was it incompetence or a case of following the spirit of the commander?
The forensic architecture finding left the prosecution with little choice, and about a month later, on July 11th 2010 – some 15 months after the shooting, but who’s counting – it ordered an MPCID investigation. This carried on and on and on, perhaps expecting us to take the hint and go bark up another tree. This was just a Palestinian, after all, and furthermore one who caused the hasbara system some embarrassment by starring in “Five Broken Cameras.”
So we were left with no choice, and on March 3rd 2013, we appealed, together with B’Tselem, to the High Court of Justice, demanding two remedies: That the prosecution should reach a decision in the case; and that it should indict, at a minimum, for unlawful use of a weapon.
And, as mentioned, last week we got the answer: the military prosecution still insists it is ignorant of the identity of a shooter documented in three cameras, even after we specifically noted his location. Therefore it asks the Court to reject the appeal, close the file without any indictments, and offers us to appeal its decision – a process which can easily drag on for a year or two.
To sum: In April 2009, a person wearing Israeli uniform shot an unarmed demonstrator. Four years later, the IDF’s glorious investigative organs – a debriefing and an MPCID investigation – claim “lack of evidence” for an indictment. Didn’t you get the hint, you bleeding hearts? What, do you seriously think we would indict a soldier for killing a Palestinian, and worse – screw up his superior’s career? As our data sheet showed, the rate of indictment of soldiers and officers for killing Palestinians is very low, and the conviction rate is also rather sparse.
“If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field,” orders the Bible, “and it be not known who hath slain him: Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain: And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke; And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley: […] And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley. And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge.” During the misty days of the descent of the Second Temple, the writers of the Talmud repealed this decision, as the killers multiplied and acted openly.
Here is one found slain in the field. The IDF cannot wash its hands, cannot say “our hands have not shed this blood,” cannot say “neither have our eyes seen it,” since it insists on averting its eyes. And what about “lay not innocent blood unto thy people,” the basic demand, universal to all human societies, that a death should be atoned for, what of it?
Don’t worry. He was just a Palestinian.